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This Mexican Region Has Stunning Mountains, Impressive Architecture, and a Historic Train That Travels Along Spectacular Canyons

Here's how to visit the Mexican state of Chihuahua, according to someone who lived in Mexico for years.

<p>Itzel Garrido/Travel + Leisure</p>

Itzel Garrido/Travel + Leisure

Chihuahua offers a different kind of Mexican aesthetic. Far removed from the palm-fringed beaches and turquoise sea, this region is for travelers who crave soaring mountains, raw nature, Spanish-influenced cities, and a rugged ranchero vibe.

The state of Chihuahua is one of the largest in Mexico, located in the northern part of the country and sharing a border with Texas. Steeped in iIndigenous and colonial history, and home to one of the largest canyons in the world — Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) — you can expect a ruggedly beautiful experience off the typical tourist trail.

"I love exploring less touristy destinations, and Chihuahua fits the bill," says Zachary Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico and a Travel + Leisure A-List Advisor. "We typically visit on the way to or from Copper Canyon, and it's one of the termini of the Chihuahua al Pacifico (El Chepe) Railway. That said, the city of Chihuahua is worth a visit on its own for the warmth of its people and the burgeoning culinary and nightlife scenes. It's also easy to get around and interesting historically and culturally."



Chihuahua, Mexico

  • Stay at Central Hotel Boutique, one of the most charming and historic properties in downtown Chihuahua.

  • Take a ride on the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico, also known as El Chepe, a major rail route in northwest Mexico that travels along the spectacular Copper Canyon.

  • Have a sotol tasting at La Sotoleria.

  • Sample traditional norteño cooking at La Cocineria.

  • Explore the Centro Histórico for some of the most impressive Spanish Baroque architecture in North America.



<p>Itzel Garrido/Travel + Leisure</p>

Itzel Garrido/Travel + Leisure

Best Hotels and Resorts

Central Hotel Boutique

A historic hotel full of character, Central Hotel Boutique lies close to Chihuahua's Plaza de Armas and Colonial Theater. Rabinor recommends it for its historic charm and excellent restaurant. The property is built into the bones of a home that used to be part of a wealthy estate.

El Mirador Grand Hotel

Perched over the spectacular Barrancas del Cobre, El Mirador Grand Hotel offers a mountain escape with one of the best views in the state. Each of the 70 rooms here has a fireplace and a private terrace overlooking the canyon. The property also has an on-site restaurant serving regional cuisine, and guests are a short walk to the El Chepe train station.

The Lodge at Creel Hotel & Spa

A rugged setting sets the scene at this beautiful lodge-style hotel in the heart of the Sierra Tarahumara mountains. Many of the cabin-style rooms come with wood-burning stoves, while the main lodge features a beautiful stone fireplace and a restaurant serving traditional northern cuisine and artisanal pizzas.

<p>Itzel Garrido/Travel + Leisure</p>

Itzel Garrido/Travel + Leisure

Best Things to Do

Copper Canyon

Most leisure travelers come to Chihuahua to explore the vast beauty and rugged landscape of the impressive Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon). This series of six canyons cuts through the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range and is popular for hiking and viewing wildlife. The famous El Chepe train traverses the length of the canyon rim, crossing almost 40 bridges and passing through more than 80 tunnels. It's one of the most scenic train rides in the world.

Historic Downtown

Located in Chihuahua’s capital city, the Spanish-influenced Centro Histórico is a hub of beautiful architecture, restaurants, and nightlife. It's a must-visit, framed by historical landmarks and cultural attractions. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Chihuahua dates back to the 18th century and is a beautiful example of Spanish Baroque architecture. Plaza de Armas, or the main square, is perfect for people-watching, while Palacio de Gobierno houses a museum dedicated to the Mexican War of Independence. This is the place where the Spanish firing squad executed Miguel Hidalgo, the leader of the Mexican War of Independence, in 1811.

Creel and Lake Arareco

Chihuahua is home to one of the oldest Indigenous groups in Mexico — the Rarámuri community. Today, these pastoral nomads live mostly in the high mountains surrounding Barrancas del Cobre and still practice their traditional customs. A visit to Museo Casa de las Artesanías in Creel is a great way to get to know the Rarámuri people. While visiting Creel, take the trip to Lake Arareco for one of the most gorgeous slices of pristine nature.

Cusarare Falls

A scenic spot for hikers in Copper Canyon, these impressive waterfalls are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to see along the trail. Hikers will also pass by ancient ruins and cave dwellings, home to the Rarámuri.

Quinta Gameros

This art nouveau mansion in the heart of Chihuahua is one of the most important architectural monuments in the state. Today, it houses the Quinta Gameros University Cultural Center and is brimming with early 20th-century furnishings and art. Each room is different, but design elements include stunning stained glass and elaborate wood carvings.

<p>PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images</p>

PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

Best Nightlife

El Gardenia

El Gardenia is a relaxing brewery serving craft beers in downtown Chihuahua. The lofty space is massive, with plenty of room for groups, and the food menu includes elevated international pub grub.

Humo Bar Culinario

A boho-chic, minimalist design sets the scene at Humo Bar Culinario. Add to that an impressive list of cocktails and fresh food like tiraditos, tacos, salads, and flatbreads. The dimly lit space is ideal for date nights, plus it's just a few steps from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Chihuahua.

La Sotolería

Native to the deserts of Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila, sotol is a regional spirit made from wild-harvested plants of the same name. Similar to tequila, this is the liquor to choose when you're traveling through Mexico's north country. At La Sotolería, you can indulge in a sotol tasting to get to know the traditional beverage. 

<p>fitopardo/Getty Images</p>

fitopardo/Getty Images

Best Restaurants

Dos Aguas

Rabinor calls Dos Aguas an institution for upscale dining in Chihuahua. The beautiful, industrial-chic dining room sets the stage for a menu of hearty steaks and seafood, salads, tacos, and small plates.

La Cocinería

Serving fantastic regional norteño cuisine, La Cocinería is a funky, chic restaurant with a fantastic wine list and one of the best young chefs in Mexico.

Eleonora Bar à Vin

Fresh Italian food is what's on the menu at Eleonora (think: creamy balls of burrata, fresh pasta, and delicious wines and cocktails). The restaurant puts on a decadent breakfast, too, from omelets to crepes to flaky croissant sandwiches.

Mercado Reforma

Dig into contemporary Mexican fare at Mercado Reforma. The menu here offers a dizzying array of regional cuisine, from seafood tostadas and queso fundido to grilled meats and plumply stuffed tacos.

La Calesa Steakhouse

A Chihuahua mainstay since 1965, La Calesa Steakhouse is the best seat in town for delicious steaks and rich, bold wines. It's also one of the top restaurants in the region for sampling the traditional norteño barbecue style. All cuts of meat are dry aged for 21 days.

<p>Itzel Garrido/Travel + Leisure</p>

Itzel Garrido/Travel + Leisure

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Chihuahua is in the spring, when it's still dry and not overwhelmingly hot. Chihuahua is mostly a high desert state, so expect hot summers and cold, snowy winters. Rabinor recommends visiting in the fall, too, particularly if you want to see the waterfall at Basaseachic at its most dramatic.

How to Get There

The best way to reach Chihuahua is by plane. There are direct flights from Dallas, Tijuana, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Cancun, and Mexico City.

Rabinor says travelers can also drive, as the border crossing in El Paso, Texas, is only three hours away. The highways are safe and in good condition, and if you choose this option, you can stop for the best burritos in Villa Ahumada, according to Rabinor.

Rabinor added, "The Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway links Chihuahua to Los Mochis/El Fuerte and the Sea of Cortez."

<p>Darrell Craig Harris/Getty Images</p>

Darrell Craig Harris/Getty Images

Cities and Neighborhoods to Visit

Downtown

Downtown Chihuahua is where you’ll find the Centro Histórico and most of the architectural and historic sites. This is the oldest part of the city and the most equipped for tourists. It's also home to Plaza de Armas and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Distrito Uno

Distrito Uno is an increasingly trendy part of the city. Here, you'll find new mixed-use buildings, shopping centers, and some of the newest bars and restaurants in the capital. It also has plenty of green parks and outdoor spaces to enjoy.

Creel

If you're riding El Chepe along the Copper Canyon, Creel is a great place to stop. The small mountain town, just on the outskirts of the canyon system, is rich in natural beauty and native history. A must here is the Casa de las Artesanias, a collection of photographs depicting the Rarámuri culture. The Artesanías Misión is a small handicraft shop that supports traditional Rarámuri crafts.

How to Get Around

Ubers are abundant in Chihuahua’s capital. This is a reliable and economical way to navigate the city. If you’re traveling along Copper Canyon, El Chepe is the most scenic and memorable option. You can also rent a car to get around Chihuahua, or, if your budget permits, hire a driver.

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